Author and Publisher maggie davis talks about
          her personal experience with panic attacks

What follows is an excerpt from my new book, Caring in Remembered Ways. In this excerpt I share my longstanding relationship with panic attacks. Caring in Remembered Ways celebrates compassion as a way of life. It is for caregivers and caregetters—all of us, evergrowing, who live with great heart but sometimes feel forsaken. (Click here to read more excerpts.)


"Some go on vision quests. They sit on top of high mountains. They endure cold, and physical pain.

Others journey to the depth of themselves and meet tigers there who roar unexpectedly and long. These have been my journeys. I don't know whether they've been triggered by physical misfirings in me or by old emotions or by experiences I've not seen the dark of. I do know that when panic grabs me, all rhyme and reason fly away.

Panic is fear without cause. These days when others suffer so and have so many visible reasons to fear, its blast is often edged with shame.

When panic has me, everything I see and hear is other. The world hums right along, and I don't belong to it then, though I want to. I feel as if a beast is chasing me, but there is no beast.

What I want then is not medicine or herbs or theraputics. I want someone to see me and accept me and not pull away. I want this even though I understand that primary soothing comes from within and from some grace or blessing I can't see.

Fear tests the love of everyone around us because of the way we act when it has hold. It is at the heart of all inappropriate action, for most people will do anything they can to escape fear.

The attacks feel like fire surging from my solar plexus to my throat. When they erupt, I leap from where I sleep or sit or lie. My heart beats wildly. A hundred people could not keep me seated if they wanted to—that's how I feel.

In the middle of the night, awakened six or seven times like this, I've paced until I was exhausted. Then I've slept a while, and leaped to, once again.

I've been struck with panic in the shower, on a plane, sitting at dinner. No rhyme or reason. A few hours of distress. A few days. Twice, every day for over six months. Sometimes no hint of panic for years. Once when I had been suffering every day for a long while, this woman of Jewish heritage called out into the night –Jesus! Have mercy!” and the panic ended within five minutes and didn't return for years.

Once, a panic attack erupted hours before I was to be on a plane most of the day. I asked for a miracle. When I stepped on the plane, I got one. Just as quickly as the tiger rose and roared, the tiger rested.

Soon after an attack, I cannot imagine ever having suffered one. I am the grateful, alive and joyful woman I've grown over the years to be.

During the first siege, over twenty-five years ago, my physician father gave me Valium and Elovil to ease me. Within a week I'd stopped taking them. Instead, I paced the huge patio of our tiny South Florida row house. Over and over, I talked to myself out loud, trying to reassure myself. The words I spoke felt right because they came from what was real for me in those moments.

Affirmations offered by others were helpful only when they moved me to speak my own wisdom. When I chanted "I will survive this and be well. I will survive this and be well," my truest self was welling up and speaking through me.

What felt awful was not being able to control my way out of these attacks. I knocked myself soft and open trying to escape them. Yet soft and open and out of control was exactly where I needed to be.

I talk of these experiences in the past tense, but know another round of attacks could strike on any day, at any breath. Panic attacks test our ability to live in the moment. They also let us see how much heart is left in us to care for others, even though we feel besieged.

It is said that some people carry pain for the sake of all of us, or that carrying pain can make a person more compassionate. This feels likely to me. In addition, if we do not run from our pain, but tend it as we would a garden, then even in the midst of our deepest suffering we might feel ourselves to be very much alive."

Copyright © 1997, 1998   maggie s davis. All Rights Reserved.

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